© Kim Stanley Robinson.
When this novel, the first of a trilogy, was published in 1993, I read good things about it in LOCUS, and elsewhere. I always meant to read it, just took me a few years. Well, okay, more than a few. In fact, it took my friend Tim giving me his copy!
Before starting this review I did a little Wikipedia research on the author. After reading the book, I expected to learn that his primary career is science, with a sideline in writing. Not so, the man graduated with several degrees in Literature. How, then was he able to write so convincingly about the very hard science in this work, the science of rocketry, geology (areology in this case), engineering, physics, even soft sciences like psychology, and all of it completely convincingly told from an insider’s point of view? Apparently he did lots and lots of research. Still, what an impressive achievement this is merely in that one area! Except in a few cases where he pushes the boundaries of science as we know it, this book reads more like a true account of the colonization of Mars than a work of science fiction, as if Mr. Robinson has a window into humanity’s future.
The structure of the book divides it into eight parts of differing lengths, each with a different narrator. All the narrators are from the 100 original settlers sent from Earth to begin the colonization and eventual terraforming of Mars. To keep things from being too predictable, though, he starts in the middle with a shocking murder story, then goes back to the beginning: the voyage of the 100 from Earth, and lets the story progress from there until we realize all the more what a tragedy that first chapter was. And through to the end of this book, a rise and fall of epic proportions as Mars is colonized, developed, overtaken by corporate politics, rocked by sabotage that erupts into a full-scale revolution, and…but I’ll let you find out if you’d like to read it.
The characters are wonderfully real. Mainly scientist and astronaut types, but a variety of personalities, each a complex collection of flaws, features and obsessions. Mars itself is a major character, despite being lifeless until the Earthlings arrive. They soon change that. And a great deal of the planet is explored by the characters as the story unfolds.
I’ll be reading the rest of the Mars trilogy soon, and probably other books by Kim Stanley Robinson, too. In a way I can’t believe it took me so long to try him, I think I may put him up there with John Varley as a favorite hard SF writer of the “second generation,” with the first generation being Heinlein, Asimov and Clarke. He’s that good. Very highly recommended!